Finding a restaurant in a foreign city can be hard. There are blogs, Trip Advisor, and Google, yes. But how do you know if any of those reviewers or writers have the same taste as you? Maybe they think something is overpriced, but it’s because when they go out it’s to Chipotle (not that there’s anything wrong with Chipotle, trust me). An “expensive meal” here could be anything over $3 a person, since that is what many of our meals cost! Or maybe they thought the service was terrible but really it’s because they’re just rude to servers? Plus, often the only thing that actually motivates people to write reviews is because they had an extraordinarily good or bad experience. Factor into all of this the fact that we are in Chiang Mai. This means I can’t text my friends or post a question to my fellow bloggers asking them about where to eat for a special occasion.
The point is, when it came time to pick a restaurant to go to for my birthday last week, I didn’t go into it thinking “This is going to be amazing!” Instead, I went in thinking, “Well, this could be good or it could be terrible and I have no idea and I hope it’s not awful and expensive.” Super fun birthday thoughts, right? My birthday started luxuriously – Jonah made me breakfast (scrambled eggs and fruit), then we hopped on the moped and drove to one of the fancier spas in Chiang Mai, where Jonah had booked us both a two hour Thai massage. In the evening, we hopped in a taxi to Anantara Resort, a fancy spot on the river, and home to a restaurant called The Service 1921. I had read numerous reviews and websites and decided that this restaurant sounded fun. Why? Read the description below:
“Our resort’s splendid colonial house opened in 1921 as the British Consulate of Chiang Mai. Welcoming a constant stream of visitors, the parties for the British King or Queen’s birthdays were social highlights of the year. The Service 1921 reimagines this colonial era in an eccentric and fictitious reinvention of the British government’s secret intelligence service.”
In the pictures I’d seen, The Service 1921 looked dark and sparsely lit, the food looked like refined versions of much of the food we’d been eating around the city, and the cocktails looked spectacular. When we arrived at the resort, our jaws dropped. The grounds were stunning, perhaps even more so because it was lit up in the dark, and in the distance you could see city lights reflected on the river. We were taken back to the restaurant by a resort staff member, and then were greeted by a woman in 1920s garb. She took us upstairs to our table and handed us menus in envelopes stamped with “Top Secret” and “Confidential.” She then gave us instructions about our mission for the evening: to order and eat delicious food! Was it a little cheesy? Perhaps. But it was also totally fun and set a very playful mood for the evening. Our server Farn arrived in knickers, suspenders, and a black leather newsboy cap and took our cocktail orders (many of which were named in a James Bond theme). We ordered a small feast of dishes from varying cuisines: Thai, Vietnamese, and Chinese.
After delivering our cocktails, Farn opened up a stack of ceramic bowls to reveal snacks: boiled peanuts, and two flavors of puffed rice (one was fairly spicy, almost kimchi flavored, and the other was green and laden with lemongrass, Tom Yam flavored). After munching on those, the food started arriving. My favorite appetizers were a grilled eggplant and crab dish, as well as the ground pork wrapped in betel leaves. Moving on to the entrees, the mapo doufu was spiced and silken, while the sea bream with Thai herbs grilled in a banana leaf was a perfect balance of coconut, kaffir lime leaves, and spices. Everything was packed with beautifully Asian flavors, each unique in some ways and matching in others, while still being tied together with common ingredients like fish sauce and chiles.
After the savory part of the meal was over I felt my stomach might burst, but we ordered dessert anyway – a chocolate lava cake. What can I say, I wanted chocolate on my birthday! It was accompanied by a perfect scoop of thai iced tea ice cream, which I’d say was the star of the sweets. And not to be left without a wish on my birthday, the restaurant also brought a chocolate layered cake topped with fruit and a candle. Looking back, I can’t remember what I could possibly have wished for. It was a pretty perfect evening.